Olive Oatman

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Olive Oatman
Olive Oatman1 (cropped).jpg
Olive Oatman c. 1863
Born
Olive Ann Oatman

September 7, 1837
Died (aged 65)
Resting placeWest Hill Cemetery
NationalityUnited States
Other namesOlive Oatman Fairchild, Oach
Alma materUniversity of the Pacific
Spouse(s)
John Brant Fairchild
(m. 1865)
Children1

Olive Ann Oatman (September 7, 1837 – March 21, 1903)[1] was a woman born in Illinois. In 1851, while traveling from Illinois to California with a company of Mormon Brewsterites, the family was attacked by a small group from a Native American tribe. Though she identified them as Apache, they were most likely Tolkepayas (Western Yavapai). They clubbed many to death, left her brother Lorenzo for dead, and enslaved Olive and her younger sister Mary Ann, holding them captive for one year before they traded them to the Mohave people.[2][3]: 85  While Lorenzo exhaustively attempted to recruit governmental help in searching for them, Mary Ann died from starvation and Olive spent four years with the Mohave.

Five years after the attack, she was repatriated into American society. The story of the Oatman Massacre began to be retold with dramatic license in the press, as well as in her own memoir and speeches. Novels, plays, movies, and poetry were inspired, which resonated in the media of the time and long afterward. She had become an oddity in 1860s America, partly because of the prominent blue tattooing of her face by the Mohave, making her the first known white woman with Native tattoo on record.[4] Much of what actually occurred during her time with the Native Americans remains unknown.[5]: 146–51 

The town of Oatman, Arizona is named after the Oatman family and the massacre that occurred therein.

Early life[edit]

Born into the family of Mary Ann (née Sperry) and Royce Oatman, Olive Oatman was one of seven siblings. She grew up in the Mormon religion.

In 1850, the Oatman family joined a wagon train led by James C. Brewster, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose attacks on and disagreements with the church leadership in Salt Lake City, Utah had caused him to break with the followers of Brigham Young in Utah and lead his followers – Brewsterites – to California, which he claimed was the "intended place of gathering" for the Mormons.[6]

The Brewsterite emigrants, numbering between 85 and 93, departed Independence, Missouri, on August 5, 1850. Dissension caused the group to split near Santa Fe in New Mexico Territory with Brewster following the northern route. Royce Oatman and several other families chose the southern route via Socorro and Tucson. Near Socorro, Royce Oatman assumed command of the party. They reached New Mexico Territory early in 1851 only to find the country and climate wholly unsuited to their purpose. The other wagons gradually abandoned the goal of reaching the mouth of the Colorado River.[6]

The party had reached Maricopa Wells, when they were told that not only was the stretch of trail ahead barren and dangerous, but that the Native Americans ahead were very hostile and that they would risk their lives if they proceeded further. The other families resolved to stay. The Oatman family, eventually traveling alone, was nearly annihilated in what became known as the "Oatman Massacre" on the banks of the Gila River about 80–90 miles (130–140 km) east of Yuma, in what is now Arizona.[7]

Oatman massacre[edit]

The Oatman Family Massacre site.

Mary Ann and Royce Oatman had seven children, and Mary Ann was pregnant with their eighth during their journey from Illinois to the Gila River. The Oatman children ranged in age from one to 17, the eldest being Lucy Oatman. On the Oatmans' fourth day out from Maricopa Wells, they were approached by a group of Native Americans who were asking for tobacco and food. Due to the lack of supplies, Royce Oatman was hesitant to share too much with the small party of Yavapais. They became irate at his stinginess. During the encounter, the Yavapais attacked the Oatman family. The Yavapais clubbed the family to death. All were killed except for three of the children: 15-year-old Lorenzo who was left for dead), 14-year-old Olive, and 7-year-old Mary Ann, who were taken to be slaves for the Yavapais.[7]

After the attack, Lorenzo awoke to find his parents and siblings dead, but he saw no sign of little Mary Ann or Olive. Lorenzo attempted the hazardous trek to find help. He eventually reached a settlement, where his wounds were treated. Lorenzo rejoined the emigrant train, and three days later returned to the bodies of his slain family. In a detailed retelling which was reprinted in newspapers over the decades, he said, "We buried the bodies of father, mother and babe in one common grave."[8] The men had no way of digging proper graves in the volcanic rocky soil, so they gathered the bodies together and formed a cairn over them. It has been said the remains were reburied several times and finally moved to the river for re-interment by early Arizona colonizer Charles Poston.[9] Lorenzo Oatman became determined to never give up the search for his only surviving siblings.[8]

Abduction and captivity[edit]

The Oatman Family grave.
Olive and Mary Ann Oatman[10]

After the attack, the Native Americans took some of the Oatman family's belongings, along with Olive and Mary Ann. Although Olive Oatman later identified her captors as members of the Tonto Apache tribe,[11][12] they were probably of the Tolkepaya tribe (Western Yavapais)[3]: 85  living in a village eight miles (13 km) southwest of Aguila, Arizona, in the Harquahala Mountains. After arriving at the village, the girls were initially treated in a way that appeared threatening, and Oatman later said she thought they would be killed. However, the girls were used as slaves to forage for food, to lug water and firewood, and for other menial tasks; they were frequently beaten.

During the girls' stay with the Yavapais, another group of Native Americans came to trade with the tribe. This group was made up of Mohave Native Americans. The daughter of the Mohave Chief Espaniole saw the girls and their poor treatment during a trading expedition. She tried to make a trade for the girls. The Yavapais refused, but the chief's daughter, Topeka, was persistent and returned once more offering a trade for the girls. Eventually the Yavapais gave in and traded the girls for two horses, some vegetables, blankets, and beads. After being taken into Mohave custody, the girls walked for days to a Mohave village along the Colorado River (in the center of what today is Needles, California). They were immediately taken in by the family of a tribal leader (kohot) whose non-Mohave name was Espianole. The Mohave tribe was more prosperous than the group that had held the girls captive, and both Espaniole's wife, Aespaneo, and daughter, Topeka, took an interest in the Oatman girls' welfare. Oatman expressed her deep affection for these two women numerous times over the years after her captivity.[3]: 93 

Aespaneo arranged for the Oatman girls to be given plots of land to farm. A Mohave tribesman, Llewelyn Barrackman, said in an interview that Olive was most likely fully adopted into the tribe because she was given a Mohave nickname, something only presented to those who have fully assimilated into the tribe. Olive herself would later claim that she and Mary Ann were held captive by the Mohave and that she feared to leave, but this statement could have been colored by the Reverend Royal B. Stratton, who sponsored the publication of Olive's captivity narrative shortly after her return to White society. For example Olive did not attempt to contact a large group of whites that visited the Mohaves during her period with them,[3]: 102  and years later she went to meet with a Mohave leader, Irataba, in New York City and spoke with him of old times.[3]: 176–77 

Anthropologist A. L. Kroeber wrote in an article about the Oatman captivity: "The Mohaves always told her she could go to the white settlements when she pleased but they dared not go with her, fearing they might be punished for having kept a white woman so long among them, nor did they dare to let it be known that she was among them".[13]

Another thing that suggests Olive and Mary Ann were not held in forced captivity by the Mohave is that both girls were tattooed on their chins and arms,[14][15] in keeping with the tribal custom. Oatman later claimed (in Stratton's book and in her lectures) that she was tattooed to mark her as a slave, but this is not consistent with the Mohave tradition, where such marks were given only to their own people to ensure that they would enter the land of the dead and be recognized there by their ancestors as members of the Mohave tribe.[5]: 78  The tribe did not care if their slaves could reach the land of the dead, however, so they did not tattoo them. It has also been suggested that the evenness of Olive’s facial markings may indicate her compliance with the procedure.[citation needed]

Olive Oatman 1860s lecture notes tell of her younger sister often yearning to join that better "world" where their "Father and Mother" had gone.[16] Mary Ann died of starvation while the girls were living with the Mohave. This happened in about 1855–56, when Mary Ann was ten or eleven. It has been claimed[by whom?] that there was a drought in the region,[3]: 105  and that the tribe experienced a dire shortage of food supplies, and Olive herself would have died had not Aespaneo, the matriarch of the tribe, saved her life by making a gruel to sustain her.[citation needed]

Olive later spoke with fondness of the Mohaves, who she said treated her better than her first captors. She most likely considered herself assimilated.[17] She was given a clan name, Oach, and a nickname, Spantsa, a Mohave word having to do with unquenchable lust or thirst.[5]: 73–74 [18] And she chose not to reveal herself to white railroad surveyors who spent nearly a week in the Mohave Valley trading and socializing with the tribe in February 1854.[5]: 88  Because she did not know that Lorenzo had survived the massacre, she believed she had no immediate family, and the Mohave treated her as one of their own.[citation needed]

Release[edit]

When Olive was 19 years old, Francisco, a Yuma Indian messenger, arrived at the village with a message from the authorities at Fort Yuma. Rumors suggested that a white girl was living with the Mohaves, and the post commander requested her return, or to know the reason why she did not choose to return. The Mohaves initially sequestered Olive and resisted the request. At first they denied that Olive was even white. Over the course of negotiations some expressed their affection for Olive, others their fear of reprisal from whites. The messenger Francisco, meanwhile, withdrew to the homes of other nearby Mohaves; shortly thereafter he made a second fervent attempt to persuade the Mohaves to part with Olive. Trade items were included this time, including blankets and a white horse, and he passed on threats that the whites would destroy the Mohaves if they did not release Olive.

After some discussion, in which Olive was this time included, the Mohaves decided to accept these terms, and Olive was escorted to Fort Yuma in a 20-day journey. Topeka (the daughter of Espianola/Espanesay and Aespaneo) went on the journey with her. Before entering the fort, Olive was given Western clothing lent by the wife of an army officer, as she was clad in a traditional Mohave skirt with no covering above her waist. Inside the fort, Olive was surrounded by cheering people.[5]: 111 

Olive’s childhood friend Susan Thompson, whom she befriended again at this time, stated many years later that she believed Olive was "grieving" upon her return because she had been married to a Mohave man and had given birth to two boys.[3]: 152 [19]

Olive, however, denied rumors during her lifetime that she either had been married to a Mohave or had been sexually mistreated by the Yavapai or Mohave. In Stratton's book, she declared that "to the honor of these savages let it be said, they never offered the least unchaste abuse to me." However, her nickname, Spantsa, may have meant "rotten womb" and implied that she was sexually active, although historians have argued that the name could have different meanings.[5]: 73–74 [20]

Within a few days of her arrival at the fort, Olive discovered that her brother Lorenzo was alive and had been looking for her and Mary Ann. Their meeting made headline news across the West.

Later life[edit]

In 1857, a pastor named Royal B. Stratton sought out Olive and Lorenzo Oatman. He co-wrote a book about the Oatman Massacre and the girls' captivity titled Life Among the Indians. It was a bestseller for that era, at 30,000 copies.[10] Stratton used the royalties from the book to pay for Olive and her brother Lorenzo to attend the University of the Pacific.[22] Olive and Lorenzo accompanied Stratton across the country on a book tour, promoting the book and lecturing in book circuits.[23] Olive was a curiosity. Her boldly tattooed chin was on display and people came to hear her story and witness the blue tattoo for themselves. She was the first known tattooed American woman as well as one of the first female public speakers. Olive entered the lecture circuit as feminism was developing. Though she herself never claimed to be part of the movement, her story entered the American consciousness shortly after the Seneca Falls Convention.

In November 1865, Olive Oatman married a cattleman named John B. Fairchild.[24] They met at a lecture she was giving alongside Stratton in Michigan. Fairchild had lost his brother to an attack by Native Americans during a cattle drive in Arizona in 1854, the time in which Oatman was living among the Mohave.

Stratton did not receive an invitation to the wedding, and Olive never reached out to him again. Though it was rumored that Olive died in a mental asylum in New York State in 1877, it was possibly Stratton who became institutionalized after the development of hereditary insanity and died shortly after.

Olive and John Fairchild moved to Sherman, Texas, a boom town ripe for a businessman like Fairchild to start a new and prosperous life. Fairchild founded the City Bank of Sherman and together they lived quietly in a large Victorian mansion.[25]

Olive began wearing a veil to cover her famous tattoo [26] and became involved in charity work. She was particularly interested in helping a local orphanage. She and Fairchild never had their own children, but they did adopt a little girl and named her Mary Elizabeth after their mothers, nicknaming her Mamie.Her husband went on to track down copies of Stratton's book and burn them.[25]

Grave Marker at West Hill Cemetery in Sherman, Texas

Death and legacy[edit]

Her brother Lorenzo died on October 8, 1901.[27] She outlived him by less than 2 years.

Olive Oatman Fairchild died of a heart attack on March 20, 1903, at the age of 65.[28] She is buried at the West Hill Cemetery in Sherman, Texas.[29] The town of Oatman, Arizona, named for her family, was once a bustling mining and gambling town that turned into a ghost town. It was part of the Oatman Gold District.[30] The town is now a tourist stop.[31]

The historic town of Olive City, Arizona, near the present town of Ehrenberg, was a steamboat stop on the Colorado River during the gold rush days, which was named in her honor. Other Oatman namesakes in Arizona are Oatman Mountain[32] and Oatman Flat. Oatman Flat Station was a stage stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail from 1858 to 1861.

In popular culture[edit]

The character of Eva Oakes, portrayed by Robin McLeavy, in the AMC television series Hell on Wheels is very loosely based on Olive Oatman. Outside of being captured by a group of Indians, bearing the distinctive blue chin tattoo, and having been raised Mormon, there are very few similarities between the character of Eva and the actual life of Olive Oatman.[33]

Novelist Elmore Leonard based a short story, "The Tonto Woman," on a white captive woman who was tattooed in the manner of Oatman.[5]: 203 

In an episode of the series The Ghost Inside My Child: The Wild West and Tribal Quest, a southern American Baptist family claims that their daughter Olivia says she is the reincarnation of Olive Oatman.[34]

In 1965, the actress Shary Marshall played Oatman, with Tim McIntire as her brother, Lorenzo, and Ronald W. Reagan as Lieutenant Colonel Burke, in "The Lawless Have Laws" episode of the syndicated western series Death Valley Days, hosted by Reagan near the end of his acting career. In the storyline, Burke leads Lorenzo in a search for his sister, whom he has not seen in five years since an Indian raid on their family.[35][5]: 201 

Books inspired by Olive Oatman
Date Title Author
1872 Who Would Have Thought It? Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton
1982 The Tonto Woman Elmore Leonard
1997 So Wide the Sky Elizabeth Grayson
1998 The Tonto Woman and Other Stories Elmore Leonard
2003 Ransom's Mark Wendy Lawton
2009 The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman Margot Mifflin

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ McLeary, Sherrie S. (June 12, 2010). "Fairchild, Olive Ann Oatman". tshaonline.org.
  2. ^ Braatz, Timothy (2003). Surviving Conquest. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 253–54.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g McGinty, Brian (2005). The Oatman Massacre: A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806137704. OCLC 1005485817. Retrieved July 31, 2020 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Wild, Chris. "The story of the young pioneer girl with the tattooed face". Mashable. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Mifflin, Margot (2009). The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803235175. OCLC 1128156875.
  6. ^ a b James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson; Boyer, Paul S. (1971). Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press. pp. 646–47. ISBN 978-0-674-62734-5.
  7. ^ a b Rowe, Jeremy (2011). Early Maricopa County: 1871–1920. Arcadia Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7385-7416-5.
  8. ^ a b "The Murder at Oatman Flat". The Tucson Citizen. Tucson, Arizona. September 27, 1913. p. 4. Retrieved August 1, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Baker (1981). "Mapping the Southwest". The American West. Vol. 18. pp. 48–53.
  10. ^ a b Stratton, Royal B. (1857). Life among the Indians: Captivity of the Oatman girls. San Francisco: Whitton, Towne & Co.'s Excelsior Steam Power Presses. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  11. ^ "History of Mojave Indians to 1860". August 18, 2000. Archived from the original on August 18, 2000.
  12. ^ "Olive Oatman". mojavedesert.net.
  13. ^ Kroeber, A.L. (1962). "Olive Oatman's First Account of Her Captivity Among The Mohave". California Historical Society Quarterly. 41 (4): 309–17. JSTOR 43773362.
  14. ^ "Mohave. Woman with chin tattoos, ca. 1900".
  15. ^ "Marks of Transformation: Tribal Tattooing in California & the American Southwest by Lars Krutak". www.vanishingtattoo.com.
  16. ^ "Mass Market Appeal (11 of 19)". bancroft.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  17. ^ Blattman, Elissa (2013). "The Abduction of Olive Oatman". National Women's History Museum.
  18. ^ "The Blue Tattoo | The Mohave Indians | Olive Oatman". ralphmag.org.
  19. ^ Dillon, Richard H. (1981). "Tragedy at Oatman Flat: Massacre, Captivity, Mystery". American West. Vol. 18 no. 2. pp. 46–59.
  20. ^ Lawrence, Deborah; Lawrence, Jon (2012). Violent Encounters: Interviews on Western Massacres. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-0-8061-8434-0.
  21. ^ "Tintype portraits of Olive Oatman and Lorenzo D. Oatman" – via Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University.
  22. ^ "Calisphere: Olive Oatman, ca. 1860". Calisphere.
  23. ^ "Fairchild, Olive Ann Oatman". Texas State Historical Association. 2010-06-12. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  24. ^ "Story of Olive Ann Oatman is told". Herald Democrat.
  25. ^ a b "Flashback: Olive Oatman was D-FW's own Girl with the Chin Tattoo". Dallas News. 2017-08-22. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  26. ^ Vaughan, R.C. (January 11, 2009). "Veiled Lady Causes Stir on Sherman Streets". Sherman Democrat.
  27. ^ "Lorenzo Oatman". Geni. August 17, 2015.
  28. ^ Mae, Poppy (7 December 2017). "Olive Oatman & the Mohave Tribe". Medium.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  29. ^ Ashby, Linda (2011). Sherman. Arcadia Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-7385-7983-2.
  30. ^ Ransome, F. L. (August 1, 1923). "Geology of the Oatman gold district, Arizona". doi:10.3133/b743 – via pubs.er.usgs.gov. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  31. ^ Varney, Philip (1994). Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. Arizona Department of Transportation, State of Arizona. p. 1905. ISBN 978-0-916179-44-1.
  32. ^ "Oatman Mountain : Climbing, Hiking & Mountaineering : SummitPost". www.summitpost.org.
  33. ^ Hsieh, Veronica (November 2011). "Hell on Wheels Handbook – Olive Oatman, a Historical Counterpart to Eva". AMC Network Entertainment LLC. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  34. ^ "The Wild West and Tribal Quest". The Ghost Inside My Child. Season 1. Episode 3. 30 August 2014. Lifetime.
  35. ^ "The Lawless Have Laws on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 1965. Retrieved August 27, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Banks, Leo (1999). Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit. ISBN 0-916179-77-X.
  • "True West". True West. March 2018. — details the route to and the location of "the first camp of captivity"

External links[edit]